This article contains spoilers for season 3 of House of Cards.
My husband Jason and I are both major fans of House of Cards (specifically Kevin Spacey’s iconic character, Frank Underwood), so of course we were excited for the new season. We had carefully avoided any accidental spoilers, courtesy of the accidental leak of the series last month, and we were completely ready to start watching the show and not stop until we absolutely needed to.
Instead of good morning, my husband greeted me with, "House of Cards is out." Priorities.— Dream Life of Jam McNally (@jamkotenko) February 27, 2015
Armed with nothing but beers, snacks, and our excitement for Kevin Spacey awesomeness, this is what happened when we dove into 13 episodes of the Underwoods and what we hoped would be a healthy dose of American political dysfunction at its finest.
Episode 1, 12:34pm
We both refer to this as the “What the hell happened to Doug Stamper?” episode. Much of this season’s first hour was devoted to following Doug’s fight for recovery. Lots of hospital scenes, lots of close-ups of Doug’s effed-up face (thanks, Rachel). He breezes through therapy in the hopes of getting back to work, but it ain’t happening. He’s suffered a bit of brain damage, rendering his motor skills sluggish and his emotions erratic. He even takes a fall in the shower and breaks his arm so horribly.
Instead of going to the hospital, he makes a duct-tape splint and goes to the White House to see the president, who assures him he’ll have a place on his staff after full recovery. It already took him six months to get to that point, so waiting for “full recovery” feels like a dismissal of sorts, a long-term benching of Frank Underwood’s most loyal subject. To celebrate, Doug hires a prostitute, drinks a syringe full of bourbon, and takes pain meds despite his history of addiction.
Other things: Claire wants to be U.N. ambassador. Frank’s approval ratings are on the decline, and he’s desperate to get a jobs initiative up and running.
Me: Aside from the unbearable Colbert Report scene, this was a pretty boring episode.
Jason: (in a Frank Underwood-ish accent) This is only the beginning.
Me: Also, that arm break. The duct tape. Go to the hospital, you idiot. Who can last that long with that kind of fracture? I would faint.
Jason: Sometimes you have to break a few bones to get ahead.
Me: I can’t wait for him to go to Freddy’s for ribs. Can we have ribs for dinner?
Episode 2, 9:19pm
The Underwoods heavily push for their own agenda, Claire with her nomination as U.N. ambassador and Frank with America Works, a project that promises 10 million jobs, which he hopes will make his 18-month presidency matter. The leadership won’t have it, telling him they don’t want him to run for president in the 2016 elections.
Me: He finally looks at the camera! (exhale) What?! Why don’t they want him to run?
Jason: They are underestimating Mr. Underwood.
Me: President Underwood. Don’t be disrespectful.
This is the “crash and burn and revival of Claire Underwood” episode. She goes through the U.N ambassador nomination process, gets goaded into losing her cool, looks terrible, and gets denied by the Senate. Not taking no for an answer, she asks Frank for a recess appointment to make the job assignment happen anyway.
Meanwhile, Frank tries to rally backers for his presidential campaign and is unsuccessful. Absolutely no one is willing to give him money to run. He cries on the floor like a big baby and Claire pity-fucks him.
Me: I guess vulnerability is a turn-on? Snot is so not sexy.
Jason: He needs his groove back, and she’s giving it to him.
At the end of the episode, we witness Frank toy with the idea we all know was bound to happen.
Jason: He’s probably going to announce he’s not running, but in a passive aggressive way so people will want him to run. It’s like a judo move!
Ding ding ding! Frank does exactly as Jason predicted: He makes a pretty awesome speech on TV explaining his jobs initiative and how he plans to use methods politicians seeking re-election would definitely shy away from, because he has no plans of running. He doesn’t want to spend his presidency campaigning; he wants America Works!
Other things: Doug is still pretty messed up. He thinks drinking liquor by syringe is keeping his alcoholism at bay.
Episode 3, 10:16pm
Jason hums the House of Cards theme song with a goofy grin on his face. We both can hardly wait for the season to start ramping up.
The whole episode is about power. Frank invites Russian President Viktor Petrov (whom we immediately dislike) to the U.S. in the hopes of enlisting his support for a peacekeeping plan in the Middle East. Petrov outright shits on this notion, saying he has nothing to gain from the plan or from working with the U.S. Frank doesn’t buy it.
Me: Men like you don’t show up for dinner with an appetite. What a line!
The whole episode has Frank and Petrov doing the political cha-cha, which got very boring until everyone started taking shot after shot of Russian vodka. Frank sings the blues and Petrov gets handsy with Claire, kissing her full on the mouth. Everyone acts like this is normal behavior. Frank ends up saying hell no to Petrov’s conditions.
Meanwhile, Claire very much wants to get on the good graces of Cathy, the secretary of defense who was initially against Claire’s appointment as U.N. ambassador. They bond over beer pong and their distrust of Petrov. They’re instant best buds.
Me: Old lady beer pong? WTF is going on?
Jason: Liquor is a great tool for forging political relationships.
Other things: The band Pussy Riot makes an appearance. Doug is still obsessed with Rachel, his almost-killer, and he meets up with Gavin the hacker for more information on her.
Jason: Oh, what was the deal with everyone at the FBI standing up when the deputy director walked through? What a joke.
Episode 4, 11:35pm
Frank meets his main opponent for the season, in the form of stickler-for-the-Constitution Solicitor General Heather Dunbar, who is suddenly interested in running for president after being tricked into vying for a spot on the Supreme Court, which was offered to her as a consolation prize. Nope, she would rather run for president than have job security for life.
Meanwhile, Doug is slowly making his way back into the inner sanctum. He applies for a job with Dunbar, which we secretly hope is a ploy to spy for Frank. He also coerces Gavin into finding Rachel by making contact with her ex-lover Lisa to find more usable info that’ll narrow down the search.
Jason: Clearly, this show’s version of the Machine from Person of Interest is not as sophisticated.
The episode ends on a high note. Frank goes to church for a chat with a pastor on how to rule. He approaches a giant crucifix at the altar in a way that will make you think.
Me: Is he about to accept Jesus in his life?
Nope. He spits on the Jesus statue. He does feel bad, though, and leans in to wipe it. The statue crashes to the floor. He picks up a piece before exiting. Cue Underwood-ism: “I’ve got God’s ear now.”
Other things: Ayla (the new Zoe) gets her White House press privileges revoked by Seth (in a very mic-drop-worthy moment) for shaming the president for his wishy-washy stance on gay rights.
Me: Yeah, what’s up with that? Isn’t he “experimental” and a Democrat? Shouldn’t he be pro-gay rights? Why isn’t he saying that outright, regardless of whether he runs again? Also, do you think he and Claire will have more hot threesomes with Meechum?
Jason: Underwood is a southern Democrat, which is the political equivalent of a platypus.
Me: I need more Meechum in my life, tbh.
It’s also worth noting that Claire is kicking ass in the U.N.
Episode 5, 12:22am
Me: Good morning!
The Dunbar campaign is in full stride. Doug insists on being let in on Dunbar’s campaign, and she considers it, because “a mole accepts the first offer, and [Doug is] negotiating,” so he can’t have an ulterior motive.
Jason: That’s probably why he’s negotiating! Brilliant.
Doug, at some point in the episode, also does a Liam Neeson. He gives Dunbar a Frank tutorial.
Frank makes strides with his America Works project and proposes that the massive unemployment rate be considered an “emergency” that warrants use of the disaster relief fund. Claire confronts the Russian U.N. ambassador by forcing him to enter the ladies room for a conversation while she’s on the toilet.
We also get a peek into Frank and Claire’s marital life in the White House.
Me: They sleep separately?
Jason: He wanted to get some and she sent him away! She wanted him to leave.
Later, they share a cigarette (a symbol of their bonding) and talk about their issues. America Works finally begins. The camera pans through the people in the queue awaiting for employment assistance. We finally see Freddy.
Me: Crap. I forgot. Did Freddy lose his business?
Jason: I guess?
Me: I still want ribs.
Jason: (yawns) Let’s continue this tomorrow?
Other things: Ayla’s replacement Kate (new Zoe 2) is poking around in a way that’ll make you think she’s another obstacle Frank will have to deal with. Also, Jackie (the congresswoman who took Frank’s place as the whip, who also wants to be Frank’s V.P. for the 2016 elections) has sex.
Jason: She is trying very hard not to expose boobage.
Me: It’s not in her contract.
Episode 6, 9:46am
Frank and Claire travel to Moscow to appeal for the release of American citizen Michael Corrigan, imprisoned for illegally protesting on behalf of gay rights.
Me: OMG remember him [Corrigan]?
Jason: Killer in Dexter season 1? Yep.
Petrov is unshakeable. He wants Corrigan to issue a public apology, which Corrigan of course refuses. The Underwoods work as a tag team to fix the growing mess; Frank tries to soften up Petrov by improving the language of the apology while Claire reminds Corrigan of the life he’s missing in the States, where his husband is actively campaigning for his release.
Frank finally convinces Petrov to let him read the statement instead of Corrigan (because all Petrov really wants is the illusion of power and respect the apology affords him), but his work amounts to nothing when Corrigan hangs himself in his cell using Claire’s scarf, while Claire was sleeping in his bed.
Petrov and the Underwoods face the media, with Claire asking to go first so she can provide Corrigan’s family with warm words. Instead, she shames Petrov for Russia’s stupid gay propaganda law, thereby ruining Frank’s deal for peacekeeping support in the Middle East.
Me: GET OFF THE PODIUM, CLAIRE!
Frank is understandably enraged: “I should never have made you ambassador.” She shoots back: “I should never have made you president.”
Jason: (gleefully) Ahhh, we’re at the halfway point, so of course everything is on the decline. It won’t be long till things ramp up again.
Me: Who the hell falls asleep in a jail cell, leaving an on-tilt activist with means to off himself? Ugh.
Other things: Gavin makes contact with Lisa and pretends to be HIV-positive to gain her sympathy and trust. Frank hires Thomas, an award-winning writer, to follow him around and write a book about America Works.
Me: That’s Mickey Doyle from Boardwalk Empire! He sounds weird without the weaselly laugh.
Doug starts talking strategy with Dunbar. Also, he seems to be into his physical therapist.
Episode 7, 10:40am
This episode alternates between real time and flashbacks to a month ago, marked by Claire’s hair color change. Things aren’t great between the couple: Claire recoils to Frank’s touch during a photo shoot, and he notices. Frank shoots down Claire’s idea during a cabinet meeting. In between this back-and-forth doling of hurt, we see monks—who are visiting for a month for a cultural exchange—working on an intricate sand painting in the White House.
Me: Look at how elaborate that is!
Jason: One sneeze and it’s all over!
More fighting between Frank and Claire ensues. More scenes of the sand art are shown.
Jason: I’m only waiting for Frank to rage and sweep all that stuff up.
Me: (blow sounds)
America Works is successful, and is commended by congressmen on TV.
Frank walks around the National Mall, sees Eleanor Roosevelt’s lonely statue (she was the very first U.N. ambassador to the United States), has thoughts that make him see the error in his ways, and approves Claire’s plan. They finally make peace. Claire dyes her hair brown (her original hair color when she first met Frank) and they renew their vows.
Me: When are we getting our vows renewed?
Jason: What? We just got married.
Me: We got married three years ago. So what, in 10, 15, 20 years?
Other things: Gavin finds Rachel and uses it to barter for his release from the FBI. Doug’s physical therapist is moving to Seattle, so they have goodbye sex and that’s totally OK. Also, the monks freaking destroy the sand art, as expected. Frank asks Meechum for a photo of the finished product and has it framed for Claire, with a note that says, “Nothing is forever, except us.” Claire sleeps next to Frank.
Episode 8, 2:08pm
A hurricane threatens to hit the Eastern seaboard. There is a massive need for financial relief for the hurricane’s would-be victims, but the disaster relief fund is almost depleted because of America Works. Congress is willing to replenish the funds on one condition: The disaster relief fund can never be used for America Works again, and Frank has to sign a bill enforcing that. After much consideration, he signs the bill.
All throughout the episode, we hear Kate’s burning piece on “Hurricane Francis,” a biting portrayal of Frank as a tyrant. We also hear excerpts from Thomas’s book, which Kate is extremely curious about. They go out for drinks and sleep together.
Me: Do you think Thomas will leak info?
Jason: I hope not. I like his character.
We also see more of Freddy (yay!) in this episode. He visits Frank in the Oval Office and asks for a job as a groundskeeper for the White House, in lieu of losing his America Works job as a dishwasher.
Me: I feel sad that his rib shack is no more.
Jason: You’re too obsessed with ribs.
Me: You know they’re my favorite!
Unfortunately, the hurricane turns, and Frank realizes that he signed the bill killing his jobs initiative for nothing.
Me: Dammit. I KNEW THIS WAS GONNA HAPPEN!
Jason: Hahaha, Kate says she can’t write her “Hurricane Francis” piece anymore. That’s what you get for using a could-be disaster as an angle.
Frank calls Thomas to the White House and tells him to get serious about the book… because he’ll need it to bolster the America Works initiative, the central component of his presidential campaign, which he finally intends to announce to the public.
Me: (sings a few bars of CeCe Peniston’s “Finally”)
Other things: Doug finally admits what we already knew: He’s working for Dunbar “to look out for the president.” He’s still pretty obsessed with finding Rachel and spends his time watching out for her through a traffic light feed. Also, Meechum has an aww moment, telling Thomas, “Don’t fuck [the president] over. He’s not foolish.”
Episode 9, 2:55pm
Frank starts campaigning, finally. However, trouble derails his progress as eight Russian soldiers are killed in Jordan Valley, where the peacekeeping mission was supposedly in place. Petrov blames Frank and blocks access to the blast site, impeding plans for further investigation. Israel blames Palestine. It’s a shitshow.
Claire tries to fix it by talking to the Russian ambassador, who tells her that Petrov was behind the killing of his own men in order to disrupt the peace he was never behind to begin with. Claire believes him and convinces Frank as well.
Me: Wow, Petrov is one cold motherf**ker.
Jason: So is Putin.
Frank arranges for a U.S. team to infiltrate the blast zone to try and get proof of this accusation. The team’s cover is blown and a soldier is killed in action; the team is forced to retreat. Petrov shares footage of the U.S. troops infiltrating Israeli soil, causing Israel to send its own troops in, thereby killing the peacekeeping mission.
Meanwhile, Gavin gives Doug information on Rachel so he can finally negotiate his freedom: She’s dead.
Doug gets shitfaced, abandoning the syringe delivery method for actual bottles of booze. He sees Frank in the Oval Office and tells him about Rachel’s death and his plan to spy on Dunbar. Frank really wants Doug to get better first before re-joining the gang. Frank calls Dunbar to tell her off for messing up Doug’s recovery. Doug’s brother comes to care for him.
Other things: Remy is on tilt mode after being called a chauffeur by a possible donor to Frank’s campaign. He gets stopped and frisked for speeding because he didn’t have his wallet on him. He goes to Jackie for comfort and kisses her. She sends him away. Kate and Thomas, however, keep sleeping together.
Me: Ewwwww why?
Jason: She’s playing the long game!
Episode 10, 3:49pm
The shitshow that is the Jordan Valley situation is still in full effect, but Frank soldiers on and keeps campaigning, while Claire mediates between Israel and Palestine behind closed doors. Things don’t go well. Israel goes ahead and issues a no-fly zone over Jordan Valley before Frank is able to talk with the prime minister. This angers Petrov and prompts him to give Israel the middle finger by flying over Jordan Valley anyway. Frank plans to meet Petrov on the ground in Jordan Valley, despite discouragement from Claire, to try to convince him to leave Israel face-to-face.
Petrov agrees to leave, on one condition: Frank must fire Claire as U.N. ambassador. Petrov then shows Frank why he needs to. The revelation the Russian ambassador told Claire—the one where Petrov killed his own men—was false. (Or is it? Petrov is sketchy as hell.) Frank fell for it completely because he trusts his wife too much. When he gets home, he tells Claire she’s been played; she agrees to resign, but she’s butthurt about it.
Plagued by thoughts on his loss of control over everything, Frank calls Thomas for company, who opens up about turning tricks in his youth. They hold hands.
Me: Oh-fuckin’-boy! HERE WE GO!
Jason: Nope, not happening. Thomas is no Meechum.
Other things: Gavin sort of confesses to Lisa, telling her he needs to leave because he’s in danger and that everything he said about himself was a lie “because he had to.” Doug has a moment of clarity when he overhears his brother talking to his family on the phone: He has no one. So he agrees to have the entire family for a visit and loves it.
Me: You think this is it, the beginning of his “real” recovery?
Jason: (Southern drawl) Can a leopard shed its spots?
Episode 11, 7:59pm
The entire episode is centered on preparations for the upcoming presidential debate. Claire, relieved from her duties as U.N. ambassador, goes back to blond to appeal to Frank’s constituents.
Frank plans the debate with Jackie, who is still in the presidential race because of two things: Frank’s instruction to distract Dunbar and his promise to make her his running mate. Frank wants Jackie to go after Dunbar by calling her a sexist. Jackie is hesitant because she cares for her reputation too much, but she relents after further badgering from Frank.
Secretly, however, Jackie meets with Dunbar to negotiate. She promises to bow out of the presidential race and endorse Dunbar; in exchange, she wants to be Dunbar’s pick for secretary of defense. She also reveals that Frank has offered her to be on his ticket. Dunbar doesn’t budge; she wants to win clean.
Jason: Well, now we know she’s gonna lose. Miss Morals is gonna get her ass kicked.
Me: This show makes you want the good people to fail!
Meanwhile, Doug is still watching the traffic light feed, hoping to see Rachel.
Me: Move on, brah.
Jason: Can’t blame him. The evidence that she’s dead was super sketchy.
Jason is a freaking psychic. Gavin infiltrates all of Doug’s devices to show him that Rachel is, in fact, not dead. In exchange for info, he wants his hacker friend released from the FBI, like he was. Doug wrecks his laptop in anger.
The debate commences. Everybody has a great start, and it all seemed pretty generic until Dunbar goes after Frank for hiring Claire to be U.N. ambassador, prompting Jackie to launch her attack on Dunbar as a sexist who doesn’t really have women’s interests at heart.
Jason: She’s about to get ripped to shreds!
Me: Definitely a deer in headlights.
The two female candidates go after one another, bringing their kids into the mix. In an unexpected move, Frank throws Jackie under the bus and attacks her for being a hypocrite.
Me: My mistake. She’s the deer in headlights. Frank didn’t really do much in this debate, huh?
Jason: His only move is sitting back and letting them go at it.
Jackie confronts Frank and has reality shouted back at her: This isn’t a partnership, girl. You do what Frank tells you to do. This, of course, prompts Jackie to bow out of the race and endorse Dunbar instead. This, in turn, prompts Remy to quit (whoa!) as Frank’s chief of staff.
Other things: Doug’s brother finally leaves after 60 days of successfully keeping Doug sober. Thomas spends time with Claire and gets her to admit—while woozy from donating blood—that she’s unhappy with her arrangement with Frank. She passes out.
Episode 12, 8:52pm
Jason: Episode directed by Robin Wright?
Me: She’s awesome.
Jason: I only recently realized she was Buttercup in The Princess Bride.
Dunbar is ahead in the polls. She visits Justice Jacobs—the one with the Alzheimer’s—and is again offered the opportunity to replace him in the Supreme Court. She refuses, again. She really wants to be president.
To solidify her lead in the race, Dunbar tries to find a way to attack Claire, whose popularity is causing Frank’s numbers to rise. She remembers that Doug once offered to give her Claire’s journal that reveals she wasn’t actually raped in season 2. She negotiates with Doug for the journal and uses it to blackmail Frank into bowing out of the race. Frank is pissed and Claire freaks the fuck out and asks him to do whatever it takes to recover it.
Meechum finds Doug and brings him to the Oval Office. Doug then reveals that he never gave Dunbar the journal and never intended to.
Me: Dunbar was totally lying! I did not see that coming.
Jason: Me neither. Doug’s back in the game!
Yes, he is. He proves his worthiness and Frank accepts his proposal to be his new chief of staff. They have a celebratory bonfire using the journal.
Jason: He should’ve been brought back earlier! There’re only a couple of eps left.
Claire doesn’t take the news of Doug’s rehiring well. She confronts Frank about it, as well as the lie he told on TV regarding her resignation as U.N. ambassador.
Other things: Jackie joins Dunbar’s camp. She offers Remy a job, which he refuses. Jackie sees him again to let him know she can’t stop thinking about him. Remy tells her to move on. They have sex anyway.
Thomas shows the Underwoods the first chapter of his book. Instead of making it about America Works or even a profile on Frank, the chapter focuses on Frank and Claire’s marriage, which angers Frank. Claire, not so much. Frank kills the book.
Me: Ugh, just like that, one likeable character down the drain.
Episode 13, 9:43pm
Jason: The final chapter…is this really it? No one has died or has been killed yet!
Newsflash: Rachel is still alive! The finale’s intro focuses on her new life in Santa Fe.
Jason: Doug should’ve just gone there to find her. It would’ve been so easy.
Me: He wasn’t in the proper head space to do any sleuthing, though.
Jason: He should go there now and look for her, instead of focusing on the hacker.
Doug finds Gavin and beats him up until he tells him where Rachel is. Doug finds Rachel and buys “supplies.”
Me: Oh, shit.
Jason: Obvious body disposal shopping trip! Don’t forget the plastic wrap!
After what seemed like forever, Doug finally gets Rachel and puts her in the back of a van unconscious. When she comes to, she freaks out until Doug removes her gag.
Me: That’s a mistake.
Jason: Why doesn’t he just knock her out again?
Rachel apologizes to Doug for trying to kill him. Doug digs a grave in the desert and hesitates. He goes back to talk to Rachel.
Me: WTH Doug? This ain’t no time for a gab sesh! SHE FREAKING CLOCKED YOU WITH A ROCK!
Doug decides to let her go. He tells her to walk toward the nearby town and he drives in the opposite direction. He changes his mind and does the job he set out to do.
Jason: Why did they drag that scene out? He could’ve killed her earlier.
Me: There ya go. The season’s first (and maybe only?) death.
Meanwhile, Frank and Claire are clearly on the rocks. She tries to talk to him but decides not to. Instead, she tells him, “I want you to fuck me, Francis,” and slaps him.
Jason: I just watched Fifty Shades of Grey!
Me: Be my Christian, Francis.
Frank tries to do what Claire wants, but in the end he just can’t. He instead sends her back to D.C. to await further instructions, where she lets out her frustrations via the rowing machine (a gift she gave Frank in season 1). Claire doesn’t go back to Iowa despite Frank’s orders for her to be by his side when he gives his speech. (He wins in Iowa, with Dunbar gracefully conceding.) When Frank gets home, he and Claire finally talk. What do you want, Claire?
Me: She wants to be Frank’s V.P.
Jason: Nah, she wants to be president.
After an exchange of harsh words, Frank clutches Claire’s throat and yells for her to do her damn job as First Lady: “If we lose this because of you, there is no backup plan.”
Me: Whoops, looks like a common marital fight. Thought she was gonna stand up to Frank for a second there.
Season ends with Claire walking out on Frank, saying, “I’m leaving you.”
Post-binge analysis, 10:40pm
Jason: THAT’S IT???
Me: Uhh…what the hell?
Jason: Meh. Not enough happened.
Me: They obviously dragged it out to warrant a fourth season.
Jason: They must be planning on ending the show soon. Maybe have Frank lose the election next season?
(We both stare into the TV)
Jason: The whole season focused on their marriage—
Me: —and that made the overall plot a bit boring, huh?
Jason: Claire was obviously always the root of every problem introduced, her and her desire to be important, independent from her powerful husband.
Me: Right. She fucked up negotiations with Russia, the liberation of the gay activist, the peacekeeping mission. Her instincts were pretty much off every step of the way. It’s almost unbelievable how out of sync she was with what’s really going on.
Jason: Season 2 was clearer because it was Frank versus Zoe, you know?
Me: I thought Kate would be the new Zoe, the new formidable opponent disguised as an ally. Nothing really happened with her. What a waste of a character.
Jason: Also, way too much time spent on Doug’s storyline. You can only tolerate so many scenes of his recovery! And at least 20 minutes of the finale was devoted to Rachel’s killing. For what? We already know that Doug is a cold ass motherf**ker, and he hasn’t changed, not one bit.
Me: Except for Thomas and Claire, most of the characters were unlikeable or underdeveloped, including Frank. Unless you can count his utter lack of power and control over the entire season as “character development.” That was not the Francis Underwood we signed up for. [Knocks twice on the table].
Jason: Yeah, this season was definitely off the rails. Probably the show’s worst season. I’m very disappointed.
Me: So… wanna watch The Blacklist?
Illustration by Jason Reed